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CONSUMER – THE ULTIMATE KING

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

Written by: GREESHMA G


Introduction

Consumer protection is not a thing that has been evolved and gained importance in recent years. It has its glorious importance from the ancient 3200 B.C. itself [1]. Every consumer should be a king in the producer’s eye and should be treated in that way.


A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work – he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to serve him. – Mahatma Gandhi”


Protection of consumers against any frauds, malpractices, adulteration etc. are the rights of them guaranteed by law, and it’s not anyone’s benevolence to the consumer even if it is a monetary system or barter system. The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, and the Consumer Protection Amendment Act, 2019 state these important rights and duties of every consumer to the products they buy.


Evolution of Consumer Protection Act


Every country has its consumer protection laws for them. The initial idea of the Consumer Protection Act was derived by John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States on 15th March 1962. His speech on this topic to the Congress stressed the importance of consumer’s interests and protection. And this made a revolutionary idea in every nook and corner of the world. And because of this, every year March 15th has been celebrated as World Consumer Rights Day.


Then coming to the Indian context, the notion of the consumer protection process lead to the drafting of The Consumer Protection Act of 1986. To ensure effective protection to the rights of the buyer, the Consumer Protection Bill was first analysed and discussed in the Lok Sabha on 5th December 1986. Consequently, both the Houses of Parliament passed the Consumer Protection Bill, 1986. The act received the assent of the President on 24th December 1986. Thus, the Consumer Protection Act (COPRA) came into force in 1986. And every year in India, December 24th is celebrated as National Consumer Rights Day.


The main aim of the Consumer Protection Act is to protect and safeguard consumers from exploitation and to save them from adulterated and substandard goods and services.


Rights and Duties of Consumers


Every man in the world is a consumer in one or another way. Every consumer has the right to be protected from different types of frauds and malpractices occurring, under the Consumer Protection Act and every seller should perform their duties truthfully and blindly.


So under the Consumer Protection Act 1986, all buyers or consumers are guaranteed by 6 rights, viz.,

  1. Right to Safety

  2. Right to Choice

  3. Right to Information

  4. Right to Seek Redressal or Compensation

  5. Right to be Heard

  6. Right to Consumer Education [2]

Misleading Advertisements


"The best ad is a good product."

- Alan H. Meyer (1908 - 1976), American Aviation Pioneer


Nowadays, advertisements through emails, mobiles, televisions, social media, and other print media mislead the consumers and encourage them to buy the product. It can affect the consumers economically, physically, mentally etc.


Consumer Protection Act 2019 has provisions on misleading advertisements to solve the queries and cases upon it.


The law can make all the manufacturers, service providers, and celebrity endorsers responsible for coming up with misleading advertisements. They may be imposed with a penalty of up to ₹1,000,000 for a false or misleading advertisement. They may also be sentenced to imprisonment for up to two years for the same.[3]


A recent example of a misleading advertisement in social media is of a Green tree tea mask which notified and said the buyers that the marks of acne and pimples blemish away with a single use of it, but there are no scientific explanations for it and also users have also got negative results using it. Likewise, many examples are present in front of us from our daily lives itself.


Redressal Agencies under Consumer Protection Act


There are many assigned levels of consumer courts or redressal agencies at national, state, and district level under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act to get remedy for the consumers who have suffered losses. Mainly, the 3 levels of courts are:

  1. District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (District Forum) – It is the first stage of the court where consumers can approach their disputes. It deals with complaints amounting to up to 1 crore.

  2. State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (State Commission) – It is the second stage of the court where people who are not satisfied with the decision of the District Forum can approach. It deals with complaints amounting from 1 crore to 10 crores.

  3. National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (National Commission) – It is the highest stage of consumer court where consumers can file an appeal against the state commission’s order. It deals with complaints exceeding 10 crores.

Consumers who are not satisfied with the national commission’s order can approach or file an appeal in Supreme Court further within 30 days.[4]


An ever leading and important case on medical negligence which granted the highest amount of compensation up to time was the case of Balram Prasad (Dr.) v. Dr. Kunal Saha & Others. Dr Kunal Saha was awarded a compensation of ₹ 5,72,00,550.[5]


E-commerce


Nowadays, e-commerce or online purchasing has become the main source of selling things to consumers with a lot of varieties and options. For the smooth, easy, and safe functioning of e-commerce entities, our Indian government has brought a new rule regarding the purchasing and selling of goods or commodities through the internet or virtual platforms namely the Consumer Protection (E-commerce) Rules, 2020 which came into force on 23rd July 2020. These guidelines or tips were to apply only to the Business-to-Consumer E-Commerce entities.


The E-commerce Rules 2020 applies to all goods and services bought or sold over the digital or electronic network, including digital products. It applies to both native and foreign goods or services offered to consumers in India.


Under E-commerce Rules 2020, every entity must provide information such as the legal name of the e-commerce entity, the exact address of its headquarters and all branches, details and names of its website and contact details, in a clear and accessible manner on its platform and such information should be displayed prominently to its users. It also helps consumers to be aware of the cheating and fraud happening in the online sector. It prevents consumers from posting fake and self-reviews about the products they are selling through the e-commerce entity.


Every e-commerce entity is required to have an adequate grievance redressal mechanism and shall appoint a grievance officer for consumer grievance redressal, and should notify the name, contact details, and designation of the appointed officer on its platform. The grievance officer should ensure that the consumer complaints are noticed within 48 hours and redress the complaint within one month of the date of complaint.[6]


And also the E-commerce rule states that no misrepresentation or false representation of products and entities should be there. For example, the seller should not represent himself as a buyer and write a review for the product or misrepresent the quality, quantity and features of the product etc.


“The interest of the consumer has to be kept in the forefront, and the prime consideration that an essential commodity ought to be made available to the common man at a fair price must rank in priority over every other consideration.”

Y.V. Chandrachud, J. in Prag Ice & Oil Mills v. Union of India, (1978) 3 SCC 459


Conclusion


Consumer protection is usually a matter of great concern. From past times onwards, there have been many effective measures to protect and safeguard the consumers or buyers from malpractices, frauds, false weights, adulteration etc. within the marketplace (now there are different types of virtual markets too). At that time, it had been the rule of kings but now our country, India, is a democratic nation. So our government has initiated different and various types of rules, acts, provisions etc. to secure and help the consumers from getting exploited. The Consumer Protection Act of 1986, which provides easy and quick access to justice, has brought a very large revolution in India as a result of which the cost-effective mechanisms have gained popular support on our part. At the same time, these mechanisms pose a great challenge to the traditional or normal courts, which conduct litigation in orthodox ways. During this era of consumers, the regime of Indian consumer law will undoubtedly rule Indian markets and provides a new refreshing phase on the prevailing Indian legal structure with its strong ancient legal foundations.

[1] Dr. A. Rajendra Prasad, “Historical Evolution of Consumer Protection and Law in India – A Bird’s Eye View”, 11 JTCL3 132 – 136(2008). [2] Department of Consumer Affairs, available at: https://consumeraffairs.nic.in/organisation-and-units/division/consumer-protection-unit/consumer-rights (Last Visited on 6th July 2021). [3] The Consumer Protection Amendment Act, 2019 (Act 35 of 2019) [4] The Consumer Protection Amendment Act, 2019, (Act 35 of 2019) and available at: https://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/210422.pdf (Last Visited on 19th July 2021). [5] Balram Prasad vs Kunal Saha & Ors on 24 October, 2013, CIVIL APPEAL NO.2867 OF 2012 [6] Siddharth Batra, “Consumer Protection (E-commerce Rules,2020 - A blessing for Consumers", businessworld.in, 12th January 2021 (Last Visited on 7th July 2021).

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